It was the summer of 2015 and after finally being settled into our new home, it was time to apply for an USDA license so I could exhibit Benji to others and get him a buddy. Monkeys are very social animals and don’t like being by themselves. I work full-time but am lucky enough to be able to work from home. Benji has access to my home office so he can visit me any time and he often spends hours in my office but having a buddy is still a lot better than just being able to see me during the day. We spend time every day together but that isn’t until after work or during my lunch break.
Benji’s living room enclosure (15′ x 7.5′ x 8′ high)
Getting a USDA license
Applying for an USDA class C license isn’t hard but since they’re understaffed, it took several months before the USDA visited my home and gave me the green light. They were impressed with my setup at home, so that was great to hear. At the same time my town decided to pass an ordinance against primate ownership. When we moved here I made sure this was a monkey friendly town without any ordinances against primate ownership but this was all about to change now. To legally own a monkey (or any other exotic pets), you need to check the laws in your state, county, and city. After months of waiting, I ended up speaking in front of a board of people to defend my case. I ended up with a special permit that allows me to keep 2 capuchin monkeys at our property. Animal rights activists surely have made it hard for primate enthusiasts to keep monkeys as pets.
Benji hanging out in the living room with me
Finding the perfect match
Next, the search to find the perfect mate began. According to every experienced primate owner I talked to, the biggest chance for success was to find the same breed, same sex, similar age monkey. I always wanted a black cap but this wasn’t about me but about what was best for Benji. Benji was about 5 ½ years old at the time so I was basically looking for a similar rehome. I reached out to Benji’s breeder and a few other people but didn’t really have much luck. The true search for a mate hadn’t really started yet so I was a bit surprised when I suddenly received a message from a stranger. They had heard from a mutual friend that I was looking for a buddy for Benji and thought they might have a good match. I told them I was really looking for the same breed as Benji but was sold nearly instantly when I saw how much they looked alike and so this story begins.
First picture I received of Cooper
Cooper was a 4 ½ year old male wedgecap capuchin just like Benji. While many people are very judgmental about people giving up their monkey, this person was simply trying to do the right thing. While she’s an amazing monkey parent, this particular rehome simply didn’t fit into her troop and was basically treated by the other monks as an outcast. People can be mean, but so can monkeys! Cooper was yearning for companionship so she was also looking for that perfect buddy. Giving Cooper up was clearly the hardest thing for them but she simply wanted what was best for him. It showed how much she actually loved him. We agreed that I would spend a couple of days to see how Cooper would interact with me. Initially they wanted me to bring Benji as well but I didn’t think that would be a great idea since I didn’t want to rush the introduction process. A visit at their home really made me realize that there are some truly amazing monkey parents out there. Everything around their home revolved around their monkeys and I felt fortunate to have experienced their love and dedication to their monkeys.
Successful interaction with Cooper on the first day
I’ll have to be honest but I was a bit nervous about meeting Cooper. I heard many concerning stories about rehomes so I was prepared for the worst. After she took Cooper out of his enclosure on a very long leash, we both sat at the opposite sides of their couch to give him the opportunity to get used to me. There was a bowl with food she presented to him and soon thereafter Cooper started feeding her and even me. He checked me out a few times and even tested me a bit with his teeth but after holding him at his tail for a bit, that behavior stopped nearly instantly. We played together in the monkey room and I even walked outside with him on a leash while he was sitting comfortable on my shoulders. We also did a diaper change together and experienced no problems. You could tell that Cooper was very well cared for and was given a lot of love over the years. At night I was glad to hear I could sleep in the monkey room and I asked if I could try to see if Cooper wanted to sleep with me since everything went so well during the day. After about 15 minutes, Cooper cuddled up in my arms and slept through the night with me. As you can imagine, I was scared to move because I wanted to treasure this moment forever. In the morning I even did a diaper change by myself which went without any problems. So far so good! The next day I received a car load of goodies for Cooper to help him adjust to his new home. We said our goodbyes and I went on my way.
Getting ready to leave with Cooper
Cooper meets Benji
After a very long car ride with Cooper, I arrived home at around 2:00AM. My wife set up a mattress for me in my office since that is where I had set up a second enclosure for Cooper, right next to Benji’s. The enclosure wasn’t very big since the idea was that we would house them together but I needed to see how they were going to interact with each other first. We quickly introduced Cooper to Benji before I went to bed but they weren’t allowed to touch yet.
First touch interaction looks promising
I also set up an appointment with the vet the next day to get him checked out. We did blood work, stool tests, micro chipped him, and gave him the necessary shots as recommended by our monkey vet (rabbies and tetanus). There were some issues with his blood work but besides that everything seemed to be ok. My monkey vet didn’t seem to be overly concerned at that time.
Benji clearly showed a lot of interest in Cooper, but Cooper was a bit more reserved. While Benji is a very hyper monkey, Cooper was much mellower. He felt that feeding me or my wife was actually more important than feeding himself which is something I had never experienced with Benji. Very shortly, I started working on the introduction process since I had no problems whatsoever handling Cooper.
Cooper standing on my shoulders while I’m running around the house
Cooper would stay on a long leash with me (typically riding on my shoulders), and Benji was given the free run of the house. Rather quickly both monkeys started to wrestle and seemed to show a lot of affection to each other. Things were looking up.
Cooper putting on “his” socks
I noticed however that if I would correct one or the other monkey, that both of them were there to help me correct the other monkey. This resulted in some fights between the two which showed that I needed to slow the introduction process down a bit. An introduction process can sometimes go quick or can even take several years especially with older primates. I felt pretty confident that things would work out between them but ended up tripling the size of Cooper’s enclosure so he also had plenty of space to jump, run, and swing around because I didn’t want to take any risks on either one of them getting injured by trying to rush the introduction process. Once again the monkeys had taken over another room of our house. About 2/3 of our very large living room is also a monkey enclosure.
Office monkey enclosure connected to living room with tube
Cooper was most certainly a very unique monkey and I truly enjoyed spending time with him. One of his favorite things to do was bath time, and if it was up to him, he would stay in the sink forever. No need to hold a leash or anything, he would simply enjoy washing himself while going under nearly completely without making a mess. What a hoot!
Since Cooper was diagnosed on his first vet visit as anemic, I did have to watch out what he would eat because he would literally eat anything, even dirt which I guess is typical for animals battling with anemia. Although he didn’t have that much interest in all the healthy food I gave him (like raw veggies), he did like his monkey biscuits so that was good. I was giving him Lixotinic daily as well to help battle the anemia and increased his iron intake.
Daily bottle for bonding and feeding medicine (with unsweetened almond milk since cow milk is very bad for them)
Early on I noticed that Cooper’s stool was rather soft and that he would vomit from time to time. After a few different treatments his stool became all solid but the vomiting remained and seemed to increase over time. Since we started running out of options from a medication standpoint, it was suggested to me by several other experienced primate owners that he might be allergic to something. I started eliminating certain foods but had to be careful since he wasn’t a big eater to begin with. As you can see in the pictures, he was a rather skinny monkey. When I would clean up their food bowls, Benji would always stick his hands out and I would allow him to take one big handful of food out of his bowl. Cooper would always eat all his biscuits but most of his veggies would be left untouched.
Cooper’s lunch, very often he would ignore many of his healthy veggies
Cooper eating Benji’s monkey biscuits on my head – crunchy!
By now Cooper has been with us for about 3-4 months and a bond between Benji and Cooper is clearly starting to develop. Every evening after supper, I take Cooper out of his enclosure and I sit in Benji’s enclosure together with him. After a little bit of chasing, they always ended up cuddling in one of Benji’s hammocks. The introduction process is clearly going in the right direction and I even dared to leave them together for a few hours without me being in the monkey room. Overall I was pretty excited about the entire process although Cooper was still having issues with vomiting so it was time to find the root cause.
Cooper (left) and Benji chilling in one of the connected enclosures
I once again contact the vet and told them that I wanted to come in to do a full battery of tests on him so we could determine a better course of action since I wasn’t sure what to try next. On July 14, 2016, I drove with Cooper to our monkey vet which is a 3 hour drive. This is a rather big vet clinic with about 45 employees and has a pretty good reputation. After they put him under, they pulled more blood from Cooper (which was rather challenging) and they took several x-rays. Blood levels have improved and the x-rays seemed to be all clear. They were looking for anything he might have ingested that was causing a blockage but according to the x-rays everything was fine. Next they were going to scope him to take stomach samples for biopsy. They gave him some more Ketamine since he kept moving his arms. I was there during all procedures and held and rubbed his feet during the entire process. It seems there might have been some ulcers but the biopsy of the extracted tissue would hopefully tell us more. At around 12:30PM, right after they were done taking all the necessary tissue samples, one of the vet techs notices that his breathing slowed down. They checked his heart rate and it was very weak. They tried to revive him but it was too late. They were clearly not prepared for this to happen.
I Miss You
This was supposed to be a fairly simple procedure but I guess complications are always possible. While I was nervous about everything Cooper was going to have to go through, I was more worried about what they would possibly find and I never expected something like this to happen. When we arrived at the vets office, I whispered in Cooper’s ear that there was nothing to worry about, that I would never let anything happen to him and now I suddenly feel as if I betrayed him. I made a promise to him that I would keep him safe and I failed in the worst possible way. It wasn’t his time yet, he was only 5 years old. While nobody wants to read a sad story, I had to write this story for myself to help me process this a bit better. It is going to take me a while to get over this but I wanted to make sure I would never forget him and hopefully educate some readers along the way. While I only met Cooper 4 months ago, he brought a lot of happiness to my heart and now a lot of sadness. I loved him very much and I know Benji misses him as well. I feel very guilty towards the previous owner since they trusted me with his care and while I know it is not my fault, it sure feels that way. I can only imagine how much pain this loss must have caused them as well and for that I’m truly sorry. They did a great job raising Cooper and I feel privileged that we were chosen to share our life with him. We were supposed to be his forever home but forever ended up being way to short.
Demand Excellent Vet Care
In the end I want this story to alert other primate owners to always demand from your monkey vet that your primate has an IV during this kind of procedures and that they should always be hooked up to a monitor so they can keep track of their vitals at all times. I don’t know if it would have made a difference in my case, but it most certainly can’t hurt.
I will always love you Cooper and I hope one day we will meet again.
Last picture of Cooper. He loved digging in the grass…